As used in the title of this book the word 'genealogy' is intended in more than one sense. At least one of these senses will be operative in each chapter. It is employed most determinately of the stage of Levinas's teaching for the exposition of which he invokes the nomenclature of the family tree. More generally, it refers to what with reservation may be called the logical order in which that and the other phases of his teaching are generated. Still more generally, it refers to the order in which his thinking develops historically from one publication to another. Most generally, it refers to the way his philosophy, including his philosophy of philosophy, is related to the history of philosophical thinking—not least Nietzsche's thinking of the genealogy of morals—and to the very idea of generality that has dominated that history.
A cursory outlining of a genealogy in this fourth sense will provide a rough and preliminary indication of the space occupied by the notions to be described positively in later chapters. In this Introduction I shall list more or less chronologically and comment on more or less briefly some of the philosophers Levinas mentions and some of the doctrines he associates with them. This summary of points at which his own thinking starts and from which it departs will begin to show how radical and deracinative that thinking is. It should give weight to the argument for reading on to discover what he writes in the space thus marked out and how what he writes there may require another reading of the philosophical classics. Another and otherwise reading of, for example:
Plato. The positing of a good beyond being in the Republic opens a path for what is said about speech assisting at its word by Plato in the Phaedrus to be interpreted by Levinas in a way that goes beyond the Platonic doctrine of teaching as recollection (anamnesis) and denies priority to the collective State. What, we may ask, following Plato and Levinas, is the place, chora, of this good that is epekeina tes ousias?1
Aristotle. Notwithstanding Aristotle's exclusion of singularity from science, in which the particular is always a case falling under a genus, Levinas defends a non-particular singularity of the ethical which interprets otherwise the sense of accusativity carried by Aristotle's word 'category' and the sense of Aristotle's remark in De generatione animalium about the active intellect, nous, coming in, godlike, from outside.2 How might we understand passing beyond being otherwise than as passing away, dying, and otherwise than as a transition from temporality to supratemporality (AE 3, OB 3)?
Plotinus. How might the trace of the Plotinian One be retraced in a manner that allows it to be non-ontologically and non-mimetically generative of existents without these latter and the One from which they proceed being resumed in a Parmenidean monism (EDE 201, HAH 62, CPP 105-6)?
Hobbes. Does the just State proceed from the war of all against all or from the responsibility of the one for all, responsibility that is the rationality of peace (AE 203, OB 159-60)?
Descartes. What is the significance and of what kind is the significance of the positive infinity of the idea of God that overflows every idea? Is a clue to the significance of this positivity given when at the end of the third of the Meditations Concerning First Philosophy, having discovered that this positive idea of infinity is anterior to the truth of 'I think', Descartes pauses 'to contemplate this all-perfect God, to ponder at leisure His marvelous attributes, to intuit, to admire, to adore, the incomparable beauty of his inexhaustible light, so far at least as the powers of my mind may permit, dazzled as they are by what they are endeavouring to see'? Is this 'not a stylistic ornament or a prudent homage to religion, but the expression of this transformation of the idea of infinity conveyed by knowledge into Majesty approached as face' (TEI 187, TI 212)? Is metaphysics as first philosophy on the way here to being discovered as ethics?
Spinoza. Can ethics stem uniquely from Proposition VI of Part III of Spinoza's system called Ethics which asserts that 'Every thing, in so far as it is in itself, endeavours to persevere in its being'? What if the thing, the person, bound by ethics is not in itself, or for itself, or in-itself-for-itself? Might this not mean that either a system of ethics cannot be complete or that ethics sub specie aeternitatis, viewed through the lens of eternity, is ethical and optical violence?
Kant. Is it not also violence to equate ethical regard for a person with regard for the universality of the moral law? Although, claiming to follow Plato, Kant posits ideas of reason, the idea of infinity is an ideal with respect to an always uncompleted approach. It presupposes the finitude of extensible sensible experience. But if, more Cartesian than Kantian, we say that the infinite exceeds my powers and free will not by being too great for them but by calling into question power and freedom of will themselves, perhaps we can say that it is affect or experience par excellence (TEI 170, TI 196).
Hegel. 'Hegel returns to Descartes in maintaining the positivity of the infinite, but excluding all multiplicity from it' (TEI 170, TI 196). For Hegelianism the other is never other than the allergic negation of the same which returns to it like Ulysses on his way home. Perhaps a more instructive figure of alterity is provided by Abraham who remains for ever in exile (EDE 191, DC 348, HAH 40, CPP 91). Like Hegel, Levinas writes a drama of the education of the psyche. Its dénouement, however, is not thinking anonymously thinking itself, but a recurrence in responsibility that traumatizes thinking without forfeiting rationality and without cancelling the singularity of named human beings or preserving them only as moments of a conceptually universal whole.
Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard resists the neutrality of the Hegelian concept in the name of inwardness and the salvation of subjectivity. Although that subjectivity has passed to a religious stage via the sensible particularity of the aesthetic and the universality of ethical institutions, in so doing it substitutes the violence of neutral totality for the violence of the secret. However sublime Kierkegaard's thirst for salvation may be, does it not repeat the perseverence affirmed by Proposition VI of Part III of the Ethics of Spinoza? Does not the ethical as defined by Kierkegaard call to be redefined in a way that forestalls the turn to inwardness by eliciting an outwardness that exceeds public generality and permits a singularity whose centre of gravity is located neither in religious fear and trembling nor in the privacy of the ego but in an absolute outside (NP 1004)?
Nietzsche. If the Dionysian artist becomes a work of art and the philosopher becomes an artist, is not philosophy being returned to the aesthetic? Would it not therefore be outrageous to suggest, as does the subtitle of this study, that the name of the author of On the Genealogy of Morals is rarely mentioned in Levinas's texts, by comparison with the frequency of mention of names of certain other philosophers who might be supposed to be most in question within them, for the same reason as the one he gives for not citing Franz Rosenzweig's The Star of Redemption: that that writer's work is too often present in his own? But Nietzsche's mockery of a certain Platonist, Christian and Kantian idea of a being behind the scenes, as too his sortie beyond the good that is opposed to evil, are akin to Levinas's questioning beyond essence in that they are moments in the history of philosophy that go beyond the strictly ontological and theological beyond. Indeed, already at the beginning of philosophy, according to Levinas, Plato's One itself is another such moment. It is Levinas himself who writes that to get beyond this onto-theological beyond 'One should have to go all the way to the nihilism of Nietzsche's poetic writing, reversing irreversible time in vortices, to the laughter which refuses language' (AE 10, OB 8). Unless, refusing to refuse language, one can go beyond nihilism by going beyond the distinction between the distinctions of good and evil and good and bad that On the Genealogy of Morals makes, beyond the passivity that the tenth section of the first essay of that book associates with resentment, beyond the warlike activity it associates with the upright hero of noble descent (gennaios), to the passivity beyond passivity, activity and reactivity, and to the call to peace before war announced by Levinas's genealogy of ethics for those who have ears fine enough to hear.
Although one of the aims of this examination of Levinas's philosophical work is to indicate how his genealogy crosses Nietzsche's, references to the latter are restricted to the bare minimum necessary for the achievement of that aim.
Bergson. Although Bergson's critique of Aristotelian and Kantian chron-ometric theories of time points toward a notion of the creation of the absolutely new, the absolutely new requires the absolutely old. If, in the terms of Bergson's title, la pensée falls short of le mouvant, and if the temporality of movement is continuous and lived, durée vécue, absolute alterity requires that this continuity be interrupted by dead time, temps mort (TO 122 TEI 260, TI 284).
Husserl. Although Husserl's proto-impression is another claimant to absolute novelty, the proto-impression and the noetic-noematic intentionality of his phenomenology call for supplementation by a super-impression and an intentionality that is reversed. Husserl's practical, axiological and ethical variations on intentionality are still noetic-noematic in structure. Therefore what Husserl calls the ethical is according to Levinas ethical only in name.
Heidegger. The name 'ethics' is employed by Levinas for what in comparison with its classical employment, for instance by Aristotle, Spinoza and Kant, it might be less misleading to name 'proto-ethics'. But Levinas maintains that what he calls ethics in his 'emphasized' sense is precisely what makes ethics what it is, disruptive of the 'what it is'. Whether or not Heidegger gives thought to the proto-ethical in Being and Time or elsewhere, that book states that it is not concerned with ethics in the classical sense. It is a treatise in fundamental ontology. Why fundamental ontology is either not fundamental enough or too foundational to be proto-ethics or ethics in Levinas's sense is a question that is most fruitfully approached through the approximately chronological reading of some of his earliest works. They are treated below in Part I.
Part II treats chiefly of Totality and Infinity. Part III treats chiefly of Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence. All three parts invoke other philosophical essays by Levinas and some of the many interviews he has given. From time to time appeal is made to his Talmudic exegeses, but not without keeping in mind his statement, to be reproduced in due course (in chapter 10), about how he sees the relation between them and the more philosophical texts.
What I have called three 'parts' could have been called three 'acts'. It is as though a plot unfolds from the earliest of Levinas's writings to the most recent. One cannot but be struck by the degree to which he seems to have a foresight of what he intends to say in detail later on. There are changes of order, style and stress. A later work may make more or less radical adjustments to what is said in a predecessor. Reading the writings in the order of their composition one is again and again taken by surprise. Yet hindsight frequently reveals that the ground for the unexpected turn of events has been prepared in one of the short early essays. It is as though those early essays are produced with the later masterpieces in view and remain in the author's mind during his production of the latter. Because they keep so much in reserve and because they are so comparatively brief, the kind of challenge they present to comprehension is different from that experienced in reading Totality and Infinity and Otherwise than Being, where it is the multiplicity and fineness of detail that puts demands upon one's attention. I have found that despite the above-mentioned differences of order and so on, a grasp of what Levinas is arguing in the magna opera is facilitated by a grasp of the framework outlined in the early opuscula. That is one reason why the latter are the topic of the first part. Another is that they merit examination in their own right. A third is that without examining them the subtitle of this study fails to apply in one of the senses of genealogy defined at the beginning of this introduction.
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